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Authors: Jo Bannister

Liars All (10 page)

BOOK: Liars All
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It wasn't that Jane Moss didn't have any furniture. In her living room were a comfortable sofa and an armchair by the fire. But she didn't invite Daniel to sit, so – having been brought up by his grandparents with manners that were considered polite in the 1950s – he continued to stand.
It should have been easier for her to bring her visitor down to her level. But she'd learnt to use her otherness as a power play. Daniel felt like a small boy again, summoned before the headmaster, kept standing while the one in charge commanded the room from behind his desk.
‘You're wasting your time here. You do know that?' There was an edge like steel on her voice.
He wasn't her guest. She hadn't invited him here – it was a minor miracle that she let him over the threshold when she learnt why he'd come. She was entitled to her opinion of him. At least she was listening. He took a deep breath.
‘Margaret Carson didn't raise her son to be a thief and a killer. She saw it happening, she tried to stop it, she failed. She wanted him to be a doctor. She'd have been
satisfied if he'd grown up to be a decent brickie's labourer, and proud if he'd also managed to be a good husband and father. But by the time he was sixteen it was obvious that wasn't going to happen. She tried loving him despite who he was turning into. She tried to
not
love him, in case that might help. But nothing did. If you believe in the concept of bad eggs – that some children don't have it in them to grow into decent individuals who make mistakes but make amends and leave the world a little better than they found it – then Bobby Carson's one of those.'
‘You reckon?' gritted the girl. There was a world of venom in the words.
Daniel swallowed. ‘Mrs Carson can't do anything about what her son did to you. If she could she would. She feels terribly guilty and desperately sorry. And she's the sort of person who thinks you should try to make up for your mistakes. That's what she hired me to do. To find a way of restoring a little of what was stolen from you.'
For a second, sheer astonishment booted the anger out of Jane's eyes. Her mouth rounded. The fading scars on one cheek kept her lips from forming a perfect circle. ‘How…?' Her voice cracked. She cranked it down and tried again. ‘How can she
possibly
think she can do that?' But mixed in with the astonishment, and the furious indignation, was just a gnat's whisker of curiosity. It wasn't a rhetorical question: she wanted an answer.
And that, thought Daniel, was the nearest thing to a way in he was going to get. If he couldn't use it the commission was finished. He'd have to tell Mrs Carson that he'd failed.
‘She wants me to get your necklace back,' he said simply. ‘She doesn't care what it's going to cost her. She's prepared to mortgage her house if she has to. It's not that she thinks it'll make everything all right. It's more, that's the one thing you lost that money could buy back. She hopes that, in time, having it might be a source of comfort to you. It was the last thing Mr Sanger gave you. It was a family piece, it meant a lot to him. It would have meant a lot to you too. Mrs Carson hopes that, one day, it will again.'
At least Jane no longer thought he was a reporter. She went on staring at him as if she no longer knew what to think. As if the cogs of her brain had stopped whirring, there was nothing behind the shock-stretched eyes. Daniel was beginning to think they might remain there, frozen in this moment, until one of them died. He murmured, ‘Shall I help you stand up again?'
She blinked, and a flicker of appreciation passed through her eyes. ‘No. I'll throw you out in a minute. In the meantime, sit down while I try to get my head round this.'
He took the sofa. Now he didn't know what to do with his eyes. If he looked at her she might think he was pushing for a decision; if he didn't she might think he was embarrassed. Which he was, but not about her condition. He took his glasses off and polished them meticulously.
Jane Moss said, ‘It's crazy. The police stopped looking for the necklace after a month. The insurers paid out rather than keep looking. What makes you think that you can find it?'
‘Inexperience, mostly,' Daniel admitted honestly. ‘I thought if I asked a few questions, and let it be known that the police were no longer involved, and made it clear that we were willing to buy it back, sooner or later someone would come on the phone offering a deal.'
‘And did they?'
‘No. They came round to my house and bounced my face off the wall.'
Jane had noticed the bruises. She'd thought he'd probably bumped into a door. He seemed the type. He did
not
seem the type to be wrestling with jewel thieves.
‘Then…what are you
doing
here?'
‘Plan B,' confessed Daniel. ‘Miss Moss, Mrs Carson didn't ask me to find your necklace because she thought its loss had left you out of pocket. This isn't about reparations. I suppose it's about reconciliation.
‘I don't think I can find the necklace. Everybody told me that before I started. I thought they were wrong, but it turns out they knew more than I did. I came here because I'm wondering if we can achieve some kind of reconciliation that isn't dependent on the sapphire.'
The girl was catching up on where this train of thought was heading. ‘You want me to meet her. Margaret Carson. Bobby Carson's mother. You want me to give her a hug and tell her everything's all right.' Any more ice in her voice and the windows would have frosted over.
Daniel shook his yellow head. ‘It's asking too much, isn't it? Plus, it wouldn't be true, and I don't think there'd be much peace for either of you in lies, even well-meant ones. But you're half right. I would like you to meet her. I think –
I hope – you'd both get some kind of solace from it.'
‘
Solace?
' exploded Jane Moss. Daniel felt himself duck.
‘Sorry… bad word. Er… catharsis? Understanding? Closure?'
There was another pregnant pause, the kind of breathing space you get before a volcano erupts. Daniel waited. He hadn't expected this to be easy. Margaret Carson had hired him to do a job; and this wasn't the job she hired him for so he probably wasn't going to get paid; in spite of which, he thought it was the right thing to be doing.
If Brodie caught him thinking like that he'd wake up with a crowd round him. But he could only toss the ball into the air – for anything meaningful to happen, this damaged girl had to grab it and run. If she could; if she was prepared to. He didn't want to bully or wheedle Jane Moss into doing anything she'd regret. He did want to help her see that it was an option.
‘Understanding?' Jane said at last. She sounded almost shell-shocked. ‘The mother of the man who murdered my fiancé wants my understanding?'
‘I don't know if she wants it,' said Daniel carefully. ‘But she certainly needs it. It isn't her asking for this – it's me. She doesn't know I'm here. She'll be horrified when I tell her. She wanted you to have the necklace back. I don't think she ever imagined meeting you – I think she meant to leave it in a Moses basket on your doorstep, something like that. If I could have found it, that's probably what would have happened.
‘Since I can't, I need to find another way forward. Mrs
Carson's my client, but this has to work for both of you. It would be a difficult meeting. You'd be brimming with anger and she'd mostly be in tears. But I think it might be worth doing, for two reasons. It would give her the chance to apologise. And it would let you see that she's really a very ordinary person who didn't deserve what happened any more than you did.'
‘And that's going to make me feel better, how?' demanded Jane coldly.
It was hard to put into words but Daniel tried. ‘Carson's in prison, and he's going to be there for the next fifteen years. There's no point staying angry with him. But you've lost so much, suffered so much, that the anger won't just go away. You're going to be looking for somewhere to pin it. You're bound to feel that, if Carson's mother had brought him up better, if she'd instilled some sense of right and wrong into him, none of this would have happened. So you could blame her. It wouldn't be unreasonable.'
He risked a quick look. Her jaw was clenched hard, as if it required a physical effort to hear him out. ‘But if you keep thinking that way you'll stoke a furnace of rage and bitterness that may never subside. You'll end up feeling that she was responsible for what happened, and she hasn't paid for it and never will. And feeling like that, year after year, will do you terrible harm.
‘I think if you met her, if only briefly, and heard her apology even if you didn't want to accept it, you could let go of those cancerous feelings. She's a nice woman. I don't think there was anything she could have done to prevent the attack on you. I think, if you met her, you'd recognise
that. And it would make it easier to let go of the anger.'
‘And what,' asked Jane Moss waspishly, ‘if I don't
want
to let it go? What if it's all I have left of the man I was going to spend my life with? What if I want to be angry, and stay angry, and hate everyone who had anything to do with producing Robert Carson, up to and including the midwife who slapped his bum? What if I don't want to come to terms with what's happened?'
Daniel felt his heart twist inside him. Of course she felt like that. She'd been crucified by pain and loss; of course she wanted to hit back. To hurt someone. To nurse her hatred and resentment until they grew big and strong. He could empathise with every word she'd said. But if she couldn't get past feeling this way she was going to waste her life as much as Carson was. Anger that deep, that all-consuming, was profoundly damaging. Ultimately, it would ravage her. Daniel knew this for a fact.
‘Then it'll destroy you,' he said quietly. ‘And that won't actually be Robert Carson's fault. He killed Tom. He put you in a wheelchair. Those are about as heinous as crimes come, and if he pays for them every day he still won't live long enough to settle the debt.
‘But this isn't his doing. You have a choice about where you go from here, and if you won't build a life worth having on the ruins of the old one, that's not entirely his fault. You're strong enough; we both know that. So it comes down to what you want. Essentially, whether you want to serve a life sentence too, or if you're prepared to take the pain and try to fashion something worthwhile out of it.'
He made himself meet her hot and angry gaze. ‘I'm not saying that necessarily means meeting Margaret Carson. But if you decide not to, don't let it be because you're afraid of losing the capacity to hate.'
For a long time Jane Moss said nothing at all. The tense silence stretched. Reviewing his performance, Daniel was pretty sure he'd said too much – though he could be wrong, he might have said too little. In any event, he didn't think he'd persuaded her. If he had, she'd have found something to say by now.
At last she whispered, ‘Get out.'
Disappointed but not surprised, Daniel nodded and stood up. ‘All right. I'm sorry. But throwing me out won't resolve anything. I'm not the problem.'
‘What is the problem?' she gritted.
‘I suppose, how you see the rest of your life. Whether it's going to be blighted by what happened to you, or if you're going to grab it with both hands and make it work for you. I know this is nothing like the future you expected. But one way or another you have to deal with it. What happens next is up to you. You're the only one who can claw something worth having out of the flames.'
‘Get out,' she said again, more forcefully.
‘I'm going.'
She didn't see him to the door. She sat where she was, immobile, intransigent, and her eyes were like knives in his back. Daniel said nothing more. Perhaps she'd think about it later. Either way, he'd given it his best shot. He felt a weight lift off his shoulders as he closed Mrs Sanger's front door behind him.
The path through the front garden ended in steps down to the pavement. A new path off the drive had been created for the wheelchair. Though he thought he'd probably failed in his mission, Daniel was glad to be back on the public thoroughfare. Almost the worst part of Brodie's business was invading people's privacy. It embarrassed him dreadfully. He was sorry he hadn't achieved what he came here for, but he was glad to get away.
He didn't take an incautious step into the road. He was walking on the pavement when the car came from behind and mounted the kerb, and scooped him up on its nearside wing and flung him into Mrs Sanger's garden wall. He didn't even roll. He lay, unmoving, with his face in the dirt and one arm twisted up his back, and the car raced away down River Drive in a roar of pistons and a squeal of tyres.
Jane saw it happen. She wouldn't have done if she'd held firm to her resolve, turned her back and never watched him go. But at the last moment some impulse of curiosity made her hesitate, and she opened the door again a crack and peered out. Afterwards she could never say why. She wasn't interested in the kind of cars people drove. And everyone leaving here turned towards Dimmock because River Drive was a cul-de-sac.
But for whatever reason she did open the door a little to watch her visitor walk down the front steps. And the sudden roar of the car that came from nowhere kicked her in the gut like a mule, landing her in the road outside The Cavalier nine months and a lifetime earlier.
People who've never had them imagine that post-traumatic flashbacks are just a rather full-on memory. But they're more multidimensional than that. A flashback is so distressing, so disruptive to recovery, because it's exactly like reliving the experience. Typically the worst moment of someone's life, and their own mind condemns them to suffer it in all the original detail, the fear and pain undiminished, over and over again. You can't turn it off.
You can't wake up. Many victims find it more distressing than the original incident because the one thing it lacks is the element of shock that made the actual episode seem less than real. Flashbacks always seem utterly real.
It wasn't the first time Jane Moss had found herself cannoned back to the nexus between the best and worst moments of her life. It
was
the first time that she couldn't afford to give in to it. Before there had been no one in the nightmare with her. This time the flashback had been triggered by the sight of a man being hit by a car and flung into a brick wall, and he hadn't got up and he wasn't sitting out of sight yelling for help. He could be dead, or so badly injured that he would die without immediate assistance. River Drive wasn't the sort of place where people watched the street from behind lace curtains, so probably only she and the driver of the car knew what had happened.
She hadn't time for a flashback now. She hadn't time to seek help. If Daniel Hood wasn't breathing his life expectancy was about three minutes, and in a town of sixty thousand people she was probably the only one in a position to help him that quickly.
Even so, it was important to do this right. She took the few seconds necessary to think it through – what she would need, what she would need to do. It would be impossible to run back if she forgot something. She grabbed the phone and crammed it into her back pocket. Then she threw open the door and set the wheelchair at the ramps like a jockey tackling Becher's Brook.
Still thinking all the time, she headed not for the drive
but for the steps at the garden gate. She couldn't get down them in the chair, but if Hood was badly hurt she'd need to get down to his level anyway and this way was quicker. She left the chair at the top of the steps and came down them on her belly, like a seal, clawing her way on strong arms, the phone safe in the hip pocket of her jeans.
She found him spilt along the foot of the low wall, face down, the bright hair dusty with road dirt. He wasn't moving. Jane reached his foot first and gave it a tug, and still he didn't stir. She crawled the length of him – it wasn't far – until she reached his shoulder, and she pushed him onto his back. If his back was broken she could make things worse – but if he wasn't breathing they couldn't get any worse so she took the risk.
Either the grip of her hand or the fresh air revived him. Jane felt his narrow frame shudder as he drew a succession of uncoordinated breaths, and she vented her own lungs in a heavy sigh of relief. ‘Mission accomplished.' She groped for the phone and dialled 999.
By the time she'd explained the situation, Daniel was sitting up with his back to the wall, his arms across his knees and his head resting on his arms. More conscious than not and, as far as Jane could tell, substantially uninjured.
‘Police and ambulance are on their way,' she said, her voice gruff with reaction. ‘Sit still and wait. You'll be OK.'
Daniel nodded slowly. ‘I
am
OK. Thanks to you. How…?'
He was looking straight at her, but she knew he wasn't seeing much. His glasses were in the gutter; she hauled
herself to the kerb to retrieve them. One lens was broken. He put them on anyway, and immediately the world started making sense. ‘Oh…'
‘Don't worry about it,' grunted Jane, hauling her legs into some sort of decorum, ‘I'm tougher than I look. Anything broken?'
Daniel had gingerly untwisted his arm, and everything that should bend was bending and nothing was that shouldn't. ‘I don't think so. Can I…?' But when he saw where the wheelchair was, where Jane was and where he was, he didn't bother finishing the sentence. ‘No, I don't think I can. Not for a minute. Sorry.'
‘Stop apologising. It wasn't your fault. You didn't step out in front of that car, it came after you.'
‘Yes?' He really hadn't known what happened. ‘I wonder why.'
She regarded him critically. ‘You don't look worth robbing. Who've you been annoying?'
‘Recently? Only you.' But of course that wasn't true. The man at the netting shed wasn't exactly annoyed, but he was pretty clear about what he wanted Daniel to do. And he hadn't done it.
The ambulance and the area car from Battle Alley arrived together. Constable Reg Vickers, who knew him, stood looking speculatively down at Daniel. ‘All right, what's the story this time?'
Daniel tried a careful shrug. ‘Someone hit me with a car.'
‘Who?'
‘I don't know. He didn't stop to introduce himself.'
Vickers considered the location. River Drive wasn't
on the way to anywhere; residents and tradesmen were the only ones who came here, making it an unlikely spot for a hit-and-run accident. ‘I don't suppose you got the number.'
‘Sorry. Too busy headbutting this wall.'
‘Miss?'
‘I saw it, but it was over too quickly.' Jane described the incident and also the car, but Vickers reckoned there were probably a thousand like it in Dimmock alone.
‘You're not making it sound like an accident,' he said.
‘It wasn't.' She gave him a grin containing no mirth whatever. ‘Trust me – I know what I'm talking about.'
Only then did it strike him who she was. He'd supposed – foolishly, he realised – that she was sitting on the pavement to keep Daniel company. ‘I'd better let Mr Deacon know.'
‘And we'd better get Daniel down to A & E,' said one of the paramedics. ‘Stay where you are, we'll get the stretcher.'
Daniel shook his head. ‘I don't need a stretcher. I'm a bit bruised, that's all. Give me a hand up. I'll be fine.' He tried to remember what Jane Moss had said that impressed him. Oh yes… ‘I'm tougher than I look.'
The policemen and the paramedics exchanged a surprised look. Then, as a man, they burst out laughing.
Deacon picked him up from A & E. Partly to garner more detail, partly to ensure that nothing more happened to him on his way home. Whatever else there was between these two men – and there was a lot, both good and bad,
from conflict of ideologies to personal rivalry – there was now a kind of friendship. They would never exchange birthday cards. But somewhere in the stony heart of him Deacon would have been sorry if this attempt to distract Daniel from his inquiry had proved more permanent than the first one.
He headed not for the shore but for Chiffney Road. Daniel was surprised. ‘Why Brodie's?'
Deacon scowled. ‘Because she said so.'
‘Ah.' There seemed nothing else to say.
‘Did you see the car before it hit you?'
‘I didn't even see it after it hit me.'
‘So you don't know if there was one man in it, or two, or half a rugby team.'
‘If Jane hadn't seen it I wouldn't have been sure it was a car.'
Deacon sniffed. ‘Some witness you are. OK. You walked up to River Drive?' Daniel nodded. ‘Were you followed?'
Behind the crazed lens of his second-best spectacles Daniel's eyes were astonished. ‘Who'd follow me?'
‘Duh?' sneered Deacon. ‘People who wanted to smear you along a wall? They followed you because they wanted to know if you'd taken their friendly warning to heart. If you had – if you were taking Mrs Campbell-Wheeler another bit of that pink glass – they'd have let you get on with it and you'd never have known they were there. But you went to Mrs Sanger's and talked to Jane Moss. That's why they hit you.'
‘Because of the necklace.' Daniel was confused. ‘But they must know I'm never going to find it. So why do
they care if I talk to Jane? What do they think she might tell me?'
‘Somebody's very nervous about this whole business,' said Deacon, lips pursed. ‘Nine months after the event, with Carson doing his time in silence, anyone who might have been implicated should have drawn a line under the whole business. But someone's still anxious enough to keep tabs on what's happening. And when he learnt that you – not even me,' he added with unconscious hubris, ‘but
you
– were sniffing around, instead of giving a shrug and getting on with his day he thought he had to stop you. And I have to ask myself why? What danger could you possibly pose to a man like that?'
‘A man like what?'
It was a good question. ‘Well, he's not the blagger – we know who that was. Even if Carson had a partner we never heard of, he'd have been in the same league. Small-time. Vicious, but essentially small-time. This business of watching you, putting the frighteners on you, trying to distract you with a few broken bones – that smells… bigger. Like someone with more clout.'
‘Broken bones,' echoed Daniel weakly. ‘They weren't trying to kill me then?'
Deacon shook his head. ‘You'd be dead if they were, or at least in ICU. This was like the thing at the netting shed, only more so. Carson was willing to kill people in order to line his pocket. This guy's more worried about protecting himself. But he'd rather not kill you in the process.'
‘That's…reassuring,' murmured Daniel.
‘Don't get smug,' warned Deacon. ‘If you push him, he'll push back. He wouldn't have started this if he wasn't prepared to finish it.'
‘I'm not pushing anyone,' protested Daniel. ‘I don't know
who
to push. I'm not sure I'd know how to. Jack… if he's feeling so vulnerable that my bumbling about is making him paranoid, he's in this up to his eyebrows. And he knows there's a trail linking him to Carson and the necklace, and that if you get wind of it you'll follow it all the way to his door.'
The car had come to a standstill. Deacon was staring at him as if he was talking in equations. But though his first instinct was always to slap Daniel down, the detective in him – and Deacon was nearly all detective – was already racing ahead. He might not like being beaten to an inference by a teacher of mathematics, but he was too good a policeman to ignore it out of pique. He knew that, along with the other traits that drove him mad – the quiet obstinacy, the self-righteousness, the fundamentalist approach to the truth – Daniel possessed an incisive intellect. He was the original class swot; and though nobody likes a know-all it's just plain stupid to ignore what he has to say.
All the evidence had pointed to Robert Carson as a lone gunman. His brief had told the court he was acting alone – that he'd hung around The Cavalier on spec, picked a likely target and been startled to find himself in possession of some valuable bits of jewellery. But if that was true, who was so worried about Daniel Hood's
Boy's Own
investigations? It was beginning to look as if, after
all, someone had been standing on the grassy knoll.
He was still staring speechlessly at Daniel when Brodie tapped red talons peremptorily on the window. ‘What are you waiting for – a kiss goodnight? Come inside. I want to talk to you.'
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